On August 1, 2013 I launched my fast-fashion fast, Make Thrift Mend, and vowed to abstain from factory clothing for one year while I focused on making my own garments, buying secondhand, and mending what I already owned. Conceived as an art project examining the intersection of sustainability, fashion, fiber art and what’s know as social practice or “art as action”, Make Thrift Mend was initially a personal art project.
Outraged by the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh in spring 2013 killing more than 1,000 workers; inspired by the NPR interview with Elizabeth Cline author of, Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion; and prompted by Natalie Chanin’s blog post regarding slow design, I realized my fashion habits needed to realign to support my passion for sustainable living. While I’d been recycling, composting, shopping at farmer’s markets, buying vintage furniture, and choosing wool rugs over their poly-blend competitors, somehow I’d overlooked sustainable fashion.
Initially, I imagined this project would just be a yearlong fast that would allow me to pause my consumption and realign my wardrobe with my ethics. In that first year I made simple garments, became better educated about fiber contents and origins (and quickly prioritized biodegradable secondhand clothing like linen, cotton, silk and wool which also takes natural plant dyes beautifully), scoured bookstores and websites for all the information I could find regarding slow fashion, and taught myself to mend, forage for plant dyes, and better care for or rejuvenate existing clothing. I hosted mending parties, received a grant to teach a free online class, led a mending workshop, and continued to educate myself on sustainable fashion practices.
But the year ended and I committed for a second year of Make Thrift Mend, with the clause that I could buy new clothing if it was locally or handmade; the second year ended and I recommitted for a third year with the addition that the clothing could be new if it was organic cotton and/or ethical, fair-trade labor; and the fourth year I turned to the materials in my studio like fabrics, threads, and notions with the intention of choosing the most sustainable materials available; the fifth year I turned back to making garments but with a focus on making garments that would quickly slip into my weekly rotation and prioritizing fabric from my stash, sustainable-made, or secondhand.
Make Thrift Mend was initially a one-year art project but turned into an overall lifestyle change, a deep joy and gratitude towards my wardrobe, and a shift in my studio work as a fiber artist. Through this continued project I now teach workshops across the country focused on mending, natural dyes and rethinking fashion; write articles and blog posts on the slow fashion movement; and sometimes offer mending kits, original art, or other textile objects related to sustainable fashion. For more information on upcoming classes, publications, or events, please join my newsletter for monthly updates or visit the News section of my website.